Friday, 11 January 2013

It takes a Village to raise a Child

Almost a century and a half ago, Abraham Lincoln wrote a letter to his son's Head Master.

The Letter reads:

“Respected Teacher,

My son will have to learn I know that all men are not just, all men are not true. But teach him

also that for ever scoundrel there is a hero; that for every selfish politician, there is a dedicated leader. Teach him that for every enemy there is a friend.

It will take time, I know; but teach him, if you can, that a dollar earned is far more valuable

than five found.

Teach him to learn to lose and also to enjoy winning.

Steer him away from envy, if you can.

Teach him the secret of quite laughter. Let him learn early that the bullies are the easiest to


Teach him, if you can, the wonder of books.. but also give him quiet time to ponder over the

eternal mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun, and flowers on a green hill –side.
Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even if every one tells him they are wrong.

Teach him to be gentle with gentle people and tough with the tough.

Try to give my son the strength not to follow the crowd when every one is getting on the


Teach him to listen to all men but teach him also to filter all he hears on a screen of truth and

take only the good that comes through.

Teach him, if you can, how to laugh when he is sad. Teach him there is no shame in tears.

Teach him to scoff at cynics and to beware of too much sweetness.

Teach him to sell his brawn and brain to the highest bidders; but never to put a price tag on

his heart and soul.

Teach him to close his ears to a howling mob… and to stand and fight if he thinks he’s right.

Treat him gently; but do not cuddle him because only the test of fire makes fine steel.

Let him have the courage to be impatient, let him have the patience to be brave. Teach him

always to have sublime faith in himself because then he will always have sublime faith in


This is a big order; but see what you can do. He is such a fine little fellow, my son.

Abraham Lincoln. "

As parents, educators or community members we want the same for our 'fine little fellows'.

Sometimes, my parents remind me how they-and their parents were not as privileged as I have been in my life. For them, the reality was different. Very early in their life, they had to learn to 'stand on their own two feet '. Resources for learning were scarce and schools  were not as good as they are now, but luckily they had support of their community, village or neighbourhood. Yes, they attended schools, but quite often, they learnt with and from their relatives, neighbours, community members or local institutions as well. Their role models were not just parents or teachers- these were also uncles/aunts, neighbours or a members of their community.

Today, as parents, we participate in our children's lives and provide them with as many resources as we can. We give them the technology that helps them interact with the world in the way we or our parents never could. But because we lead such busy lives we also sometimes neglect the social experiences that teach them the sorts of lessons Abraham Lincoln wrote about. Increasingly we pass the responsibility for teaching out children the lessons of life to schools.

Without realising it we are restricting the education of our children to our schools. However, education transcends the classroom and home. Not all subjects, matters and dilemmas can be addressed in the classroom setting only. We learn many of life's lessons outside the formal educational environment.

No man or family is an island. We live in a globally connected, interacting and interdependent world. Schools and homes are no longer the only places where our children live, grow up and learn. We prepare them to grow up and live in a society where life is often messy and unpredictable (like the cartoon).

With such a goal in mind surely the community would provide a good nurturing ground for our children to learn. After all, sometime in the future, when their formal education has been completed, they will live and work in such a community. Wouldn’t it be better for the children to hear from multiple voices around them before they decide on their beliefs, values, opinions and before they form their worldview?

In the absence of good schools, our parents and grandparents had little choice but to depend on their community, village or neighbourhood to help them raise their children. Nowadays, we are more fortunate, we have an abundance of formal resources and good schools but we make little use of our community to help develop our children. The choice is not one or the other. We can do much more to link our schools with their communities to help our children grow into the citizens we would like them to be and learn the lessons that Abraham Lincoln wisely wrote about so long ago.

The above article appeared as my contribution in Lifewide Magazine issue : Autumn 2012

Other article on this topic appeared in August post "It Takes a Village to raise a Child'


  1. It is good to be reminded every little while that education is too important to confine to schools. I strove to make my own small school a community school because I realised very early on that 'school learning' will remain just that, and have little influence on a child unless the school values are recognised by the wider community and in fact unless the school values are taken from the wider community! Here is one simple concrete example: I had a zero tolerance to bullying, but this only worked because I persuaded every family that bullying outside the school was as bad as bullying within the school. Parents all agreed ...(and this took some work and some families left for other schools) ...that any incident of bullying whether in or out of school could be dealt with by the school and parents together. Neighbouring children fell out? Use the school as a venue to sort the problem. The zero tolerance worked, we knew this because we asked the children frequently.
    We had a community approach to learning as well. In our post nuclear family situation here in Scotland we have to actively work to make connections for pupils that would have been made naturally 50 years ago.

    1. Appreciate your efforts. Would like to know more about your community school.